These build methods have been used in Almere, a town near Amsterdam, since the 1970s as well as in other European countries and the US. The BSA took a delegation of UK lenders and industry representatives to examine the Almere site and understand how its methods could be introduced here.
In the UK, we are way behind the curve. One of the barriers to this form of building is the perceived lack of a track-record.
Valuers, lenders and insurers know more-or-less how a house built of brick, block and tile will behave.
They are more cautious about MMC in its multiple forms. Improving understanding is essential if MMC is to take off, so the BSA led a group of lenders and valuers to experience MMC first hand in the Netherlands.
Rabobank is one of the Netherland’s largest mortgage lenders. They explained that initial reservations towards MMC were overcome by their confidence in building regulations. Dutch lenders rely heavily on building permits issued by local authorities, which stipulate the parameters of what can and cannot be built.
So far, Rabobank has had a positive experience of MMC, and believes that most lenders in the Netherlands are comfortable with these build techniques.
The plot shop
The use of innovative building techniques allows a real creative use of space. (See the gallery below for pictures.)
We saw both a high-end open plan family home with separate spaces for children and parents and a small first-time buyer property, incorporating an office space so the self-employed contractor can work from home.
Architects are confident about the long-term performance of MMC properties, which have to meet the tough building regulations in the Netherlands.
At the plot shop – or Kavelwinkel – we saw how easy it was for self and custom builders to find a plot and get building.
All in one place, you choose your plot size, find a builder and source an architect if needed. The process looked quick and straightforward.
As long as you build within the regulations of the building permit, you are free to build your home in any style and shape.
Helping social changes
The Netherlands is facing very familiar societal and demographic changes to the UK: an ageing population and first-time buyers struggling to take their first steps onto the housing ladder.
Almere project manager Jacqueline Tellinger, believes these types of developments give people the control to build the homes they want, where they want to live.
“It’s about strengthening civic initiative,” she says.
Driving through the streets of Almere it is noticeable that while there is an array of very different looking housing, the styles blend – rather than looking disorganised, the different areas and styles instead add character. I came home with a bad case of house envy.
We certainly learnt a lot from our European neighbours and all of us, the BSA, lenders and valuers all improved our understanding of how MMC works and how it has been successfully implemented at scale.
To make this a reality in the UK and move MMC to mainstream will take a joined-up approach from all those who contribute to housebuilding.
This is something that the new cross industry MMC working group set up by the Department for Communities and Local Government must achieve.